Hanging out with country music superstar Eric Church, posing for photos on the red carpet, sight-seeing in Hollywood, shopping on Rodeo Drive and going to the Grammy Awards would be considered astonishing experiences for the average person. But for Baxter native Lynnette Richey, who is currently battling cancer for the fifth time in 10 years, her favorite moment of the trip was something completely unexpected.
“My son, his favorite car is the Bugatti, and I had never ever heard of this Bugatti car before ever,” Richey said jokingly. “And we saw that kind of car on Rodeo Drive. So I had to take a picture of it and send it to him. That was a highlight.”
This is a woman who has climbed to the base camp of Mt. Everest, who helped organize her own “Cancer Smancer” Bike Ride Fundraiser and who still works full time for the American Cancer Society, even while continually battling the disease herself. The fact that her most memorable moment in this once-in-a-lifetime trip was snapping a picture for her son tells about her.
Richey and her younger sister, Stephanie Dart, attended last Sunday’s ceremony, after Dart won a radio contest from KISS-FM radio in Des Moines. The rules of the contest were to submit a short essay about why you deserve to go to the Grammys. Dart wrote about her big sister and her battle with cancer.
“We had so so much fun,” Dart said. “In my email that I sent in, I said, ‘I would certainly love to go to the Grammys, but I’m not writing in for myself. I’m writing in for my sister, who definitely deserves to go.’ I pretty much told my sister’s story, which she should write a book on. It was really hard and short and to the point, and they called me last Friday (Feb. 1), and they told me at 10 a.m. that day, and I literally just sat in my bathtub and was like, ‘This is not happening right now.’”
After she won, Dart immediately gave the tickets to Richey to do with as she pleased. Richey, of course, took Dart since she won the tickets but agonized over leaving out other family members. In a perfect scenario she would also have taken her mother, their older sister and her oldest niece. Dart is grateful that she was able to take part in the special day.
“Every single performance was spectacular,” Dart said. “I always watch it at home and sometimes, even when I’m at home on my couch, I get teary-eyed watching them. And just to see them in person ... and I got so teary-eyed when Prince came to present. I went, ‘Can you believe that we are in the same building as all of these people, and let alone Prince?’”
Richey also was impressed but a little disappointed that she couldn’t do one thing in particular while at the show.
“It was awesome,” Richey said. “We had a great time. I have a 10-year-old son, and I really wanted to see Jay-Z. So he was kind of bummed that we couldn’t get an autograph from Jay-Z. No, we didn’t get to see him. I think the closest we came was LMFAO.”
If it hasn’t already become apparent, Richey is a pretty humble person. She is the middle child, the quiet one and the glue of what has been described by various members of her family as a “large, typical, loud, tight-knit Italian family.” She is very devout in her faith and credits God for keeping her around. She always thinks of others before herself, and she has a can-do attitude that has led her through this seemingly never-ending fight with cancer that has encompassed nearly a quarter of her life.
Nan Parker, the mother of both girls, brought the point home.
“Even if she is down and not feeling good, she worries about another person more than herself,” Parker said. “That’s the kind of person she is. If it were only you and her as the last people on Earth, and she had the last piece of bread, she would give it to you. That’s just how she is. I’m just so proud of her. I just wish it wasn’t this way, but we just have to accept it.”
The Friday before their Grammy weekend, Richey had a chemotherapy session. And in a manner that is typical of her, she didn’t let it slow her down or affect the trip. After all, this is a woman who partially scaled the biggest mountain on the planet.
“I did that in 2011, I believe, me and my husband,” Richey said. “Even though I have cancer, I don’t let that stop me, I just keep going. It was hard and challenging. It was like a two-and-a-half week trip to Mt. Everest base camp. It didn’t matter what training we did. It was just so hard in and of itself, the altitude and everything. It was totally free for cancer survivors, and I couldn’t say no.”
In typical motherly fashion, Parker was worried during the whole trip. In 2004, the family went through back-to-back tragedies. Shelly Wallace, the oldest girl in the Parker family, explained.
“We lost my oldest brother to a motorcycle accident,” Wallace said. “What was really bizarre is six weeks prior to my brother losing his life, my daughter’s father was killed, so that was just a really rough time for our family. Lynnette was diagnosed shortly after that again. I believe it was the second or third time that the cancer came back. That was a real major blow to our family. We have been through a lot, and that’s what has made us so close.”
That connection extends beyond just their immediate family. The family has an unbelievable bond with Baxter, the town the family first moved to when Richey was only 3 years old.
“Baxter is like Newton. We’re a real tight community,” Parker said. “This little town in Baxter has been wonderful. Not a day goes by that somebody doesn’t go, ‘How’s Lynnie doing?’”
Richey, too, has high praise for her hometown, which is where she holds her “Cancer Smancer” Bike Ride during the Baxter Days Festival to benefit the American Cancer Society.
“It’s great to have a small town behind you,” Richey said. “Even though we live in Altoona now, we always go back to Baxter.”
Wallace, the big sister, still loves to tell the story about how Richey met one of her closest friends and fellow Baxter native, Dana Berry.
“She had this dimple and this wild black curly hair, and she was the cutest little thing,” Wallace said. “She kind-of had a little lisp. Lynnie went up to Dana’s house and looked into the screen door, and my sister couldn’t really pronounce her Ls very well, and she said, ‘Could you come out and pray?’ So Dana’s dad was this boisterous, loud mouth guy, and he said, ‘What’s your name?’ and she got really really quiet and said, ‘Rynny Parker.’”
Everyone in her family talks about how quiet Richey was, but now that she has come out of her shell, she inspires other people battling cancer, fellow survivors and her relatives by her sheer will and determination to beat it once and for all.
“She is the strongest woman I know,” Wallace said. “No word to describe her ... she is my little sister and I admire her strength. She has this outlook on life and this strength that is unbelievable.”
Dart, the baby sister, agreed.
“She is totally my hero,” Dart said. “I’ve always looked up to her. You would never know that she has cancer until this day. She doesn’t act like it, she doesn’t want people feeling sorry for her it’s not her way. She believes in faith and she believes in God, and I truly think that is what has gotten her through it five times.”
And, of course, her mom, had to add to that.
“I wish it would have been me,” Parker said. “All parents think like that when it comes to their kids. She’s a trooper; I get my strength from her. Nobody wants their children sick, especially after you lose your son. She just gets up and if she wants to do it, she does it. Just a remarkable gal.”
Richey plans on this being her final battle with cancer. With her positive attitude and strong support system, cancer should be in the fight of its life.
“I just can’t get rid of the cancer, it keeps coming back,” Richey said. “So we try new things on it. I have had three treatments so far and I’m handling it very well compared to the last go-round, I can’t complain. I have a 10-year-old son and a great husband, so between those two it’s hard not to keep my spirits up. I have to live life to fullest.”
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.